Urine as a Power Source: Pee Reigns and Rains

Batteries may soon be a thing of the past, as retro as hula-hoops, long-playing records and 8-track tapes. Scientists are now able to create cheap hydrogen for use in fuel cells from the most unlikely of sources: namely, human urine.

With a new technology developed by scientists from Ohio University, urine-powered cars as well as homes and many electronic devices could be available for public use within six months.

Cheap hydrogen is made from urine by utilizing a nickel-based electrode. Scientists can create very large amounts and it can then be burned or used in fuel cells. In the words of one of the technology’s developers, Ohio University professor Geraldine Botte:

“One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses. Soldiers in the field could carry their own fuel. A fuel cell, urine-powered vehicle could theoretically travel 90 miles per gallon. A refrigerator-sized unit could produce one kilowatt of energy for about $5,000, although this price is a rough estimate.”

Effective commercialization will depend on expansion of the technology so that the hydrogen can be recreated on a larger scale. Botte’s current prototype measures 3x3x1 inches and can produce up to 500 milliwatts of power.

Based on hydrogen, which is the most common element in the universe, scientists had considered urine as a power source before, but the idea never went any further because of the difficulty it presented in terms of storing, production and transportation.

High pressure and low temperatures are two important requirements to effectively store pure hydrogen gas. Today, nano-materials with high surface areas can easily absorb hydrogen. Large-scale production on a commercial scale is still a little bit in the future.

Chemically binding hydrogen to other elements, like oxygen to create water, or nitrogen, makes it easier to transport and store. The problems come when it is time to release the hydrogen, which costs a great deal of money and requires an enormous amount of electricity. Storing hydrogen and releasing it with much less electricity can be achieved by attaching it to nitrogen.

According to John Stickney, a chemist and professor at the University of Georgia:

“It is not a solution for all our cars, but it is the kind of process which will find many applications and will make for a greener world. The waste products from say a chicken farm could be used to produce the energy needed to run the farm.”

Many livestock farmers are required by law to pool their animals’ waste. Conceivably that stockpile could turn that urine into power within six months.

Consumers are waned not to start hoarding their pee just yet. Still, think about the ramifications of such technology. Could this create a “Urine Rush” akin to the California Gold Rush of 1849? Since everyone has the capacity to create their own “gold” so to speak, how does this technology affect the balance of power in OPEC countries?

Do you think we could one day be powering our houses with our own waste?

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